It was a good day for Howard as he had managed to awaken his Battle Force successfully after receiving permission from Lorist. Howard would be 17 years old in another six months' time.
In actuality, he had long been hoping that he would be able to awaken his Battle Force sooner and stay by his master, Lorist, to receive his teachings like his senior apprentice brother Reidy. But after Lorist gave his body's condition a check, Howard was prevented from awakening his Battle Force. Due to being birthed into an era of war, he and his sister Alisa spent two whole years living on the bare minimum of necessities before they were located by their father Potterfang. Because of that, Howard's body condition wasn't in an optimal state.
That was why Lorist felt that there wasn't a need for him to awaken his Battle Force so early and instead focus on building up the basics first so that he could travel further in the path of Battle Force training in the future and become a Gold ranked knight like his father. Being incredibly respectful of Lorist, Howard followed the routine his master drafted for him very strictly for two whole years before he was allowed to awaken his Battle Force.
Following behind Reidy, Howard entered the study and bowed respectfully to Lorist who was sitting at his desk. He greeted, "Master."
Lorist, who was in the middle of contemplating something, raised his head and smiled when he saw Howard. He was very satisfied with that second disciple of his that was witty, passionate about learning, hard working and upright. As he had to take care of his sister and survive in the war-torn imperial capital, Howard matured much faster than ordinary youths of his age.
Time really flies. Four years back, Lorist was still at the Dawn Academy being pushed around by the academy head to fight against Silver ranked instructors from other academies, eventually including even all the Silver ranked swordsmen and mercenaries within Morante City to spread the name of the academy. It was then when Lorist met with Potterfang on the dueling platform and defeated him. After that, he took Reidy in as his attendant when Els gifted him with a luxurious carriage. During the same night, he saw Potterfang and his two children sleeping at the public park.
And so he went to have a chat with him, during which two Gold ranked swordsmen wanted to cause trouble for Lorist. With Potterfang's aid, Lorist managed to kill the two assailants. Given that Potterfang was injured from battle, Lorist had Reidy bring Potterfang's two children back home and after living together for half a year, he even took Howard in as his disciple. Currently, that quiet youth who liked to read had already grown up, just like Reidy who came before.
"Howard, why isn't your rowdy sister Alisa here today?" Lorist asked with a warm smile.
"Master, did you forget? Alisa brought the Chino brothers with her to follow Miss Telesti to the Bladedge Mountains," Howard said.
Patting his head, Lorist thought, darn, I've forgotten about this completely.
For the past two years, Telesti kept Lorist's promise to build an academy in her mother's name in her mind. Before that happened, Lorist gave Telesti a task, and that was to gather up the various young children of the family knights, boys and girls of ten plus years of age, to educate them in basic cultural education.
Among these children, the 11-year-old Alisa was a boss-like figure who led around the Chino brothers as her minions. The Chino brothers were actually the twin sons of Gold ranked knight Chino Freiyar and one of their favorite pastimes was following Alisa around to mess with other kids.
Of all the children, Telesti's favorite was Alisa and she had intended to raise her into a scholar like herself just like how her adoptive mother, Lady Nico, passed her knowledge onto Telesti and trained her as a scholar. However, Telesti's efforts and attention on Alisa had all been in vain.
Even Lorist could not have imagined that Alisa's idol was Pesha instead. It all happened when Alisa witnessed Pesha leading a few other female soldiers on horseback passing through the central highway of Firmrock Castle. It was at that moment when the elegant form of horse-riding was imprinted into Alisa's head, causing her to make an oath to be a female knight on the very next day.
Alisa's relationship with her father as of late had also turned a little awkward. Two years back, Count Spenseid's widowed daughter had become Potterfang's maidservant. Just recently, she had been impregnated, and Potterfang focused his attention on his maidservant and her unborn child while neglecting her daughter in the process. Feeling that she had been forgotten by her father, Alisa promptly ran away from home, and when she traveled to Telesti's residence, she made up her mind to stay there for good.
Back at the beginning of the year when they first eliminated the magical beast wave, Lorist told Telesti happily that the preparatory work for the construction academy could begin. That was why Telesti set out with her students during the 6th month to Bladedge Mountains to find a scenic place on which to build the academy.
However, the choosing of the place took quite a long time. Even though Lorist had already defeated the Second Prince's 100000-strong army, and even wiped out most, if not all, of the nobles aside from the families in alliance with the Nortons, Telesti's trip would take two more months according to the messenger. The operation was progressing at a rather slow rate as Telesti and her students didn't hold back on having fun at the mountains and only managed to survey half the area so far.
"Come, Howard, stretch your hand out so I can read your pulse," Lorist said.
Howard placed his hand on the desk in response. Pulse-reading was no longer foreign to him as it was through using that technique that Lorist had managed to identify the condition of his body.
"Not bad. Your body's in great condition. Howard, for the next three months, you must focus on your Battle Force training from morning till noon and serve as my attendant in the afternoon. Three months later when your Battle Force stabilizes, you will also have to go through an arduous test just like your senior apprentice brother Reidy did and use the spinning chair to hone your dynamic vision. You better be prepared," Lorist said satisfiedly. Not only was Howard's body in perfect health, his foundations for training were also rather firm.
"Master, I've long been ready," Howard said with a look of seriousness.
"Alright. As there's only the three of us, master and disciples, here today, let's not be too formal. There's still much time in the days ahead. If there's anything you don't understand, Reidy can inform you about it. You can also ask me about it too. When we're in the presence of others, just call me milord like everyone else. But when we're together in a private setting, just refer to me as master," Lorist said.
"Master, I've always had a question about the family's military strategy and plans and I don't know why you chose to do what you did. Can I ask something about that?" Howard said, not holding back.
"Go ahead," Lorist said with a smile.
"Master, with the might of the Norton Family, we can already rival a kingdom in terms of military force. Ever since the convoy arrived at the Northlands, we've managed to defeat the Duke of the Northlands without much difficulty and that time, you have already accepted the entitlement of the Andinaq Kingdom and have been was considered an enemy of the Iblia Kingdom. We could've taken over the whole of the Northlands rightfully. But why did you not do that and insist on staying within the family dominion and allow the rest of the Northlands be occupied by the Second Prince, leading to the battle we fought with him recently? I really don't understand your intentions, master..."
Howard looked at Lorist with a straight face and earnestly wished that his question could be answered.
Lorist smiled and thought that it was interesting that the first person who had actually questioned Lorist's decisions was his own disciple. He nodded approvingly and said, "Howard, let me ask you a question. What do you think a person who has traveled far for an extended period of time would wish for when he returns to his homeland?"
"He should be visiting his home as soon as possible, I suppose," Howard responded after giving it some thought.
"That's right. He wouldn't think of having a drink first nor meet up with his old friends for a chat. Similarly, he wouldn't bother with the fact that his enemy's territory was conquered by another person. All he would care about is to return home as soon as possible, take a warm bath, and experience blissful time with his family. When everything calms down later, only then would he go get a drink at a tavern and tell the tales of his travels to his old friends. Or, he could go find trouble with his neighbor against whom he bears a grudge.
"In a way, our northbound convoy is that homesick traveler that just experienced a long and arduous journey filled with hardships and bloody battles, before finally arriving at the Northlands after walking a path of slaughter. Do you know the real thing that held everyone together the whole time? Do you remember how we encouraged the people of the convoy to persevere?"
Howard hesitated before he said, "The slogan for the northbound convoy was 'free housing and farmland to restart peaceful lives'..."
"That's right. Most of the people within the convoy had never been to the Northlands before. But because of our slogan and promotion, they have started to believe that our family dominion is the haven they have always craved. That's one of the main reasons why everyone was able to endure the journey with us and hate Duke Loggins in unison as he was the one who attempted to invade our haven. It was because of that hate that the morale of our soldiers were able to be so high as to allow us to easily crush the duke's forces.
"Come over here and look, Howard. This is the map of the Northlands. What thoughts do you have about this?" Lorist said as he stood up and headed to the wall on which a map of the Northlands was hung.
"The Northlands is incredibly large, master," Howard said.
"That's right. The Northlands is indeed large. Let's see, if we had proceeded according to your thoughts and conquered the duke's dominion, what do you think would happen?" Lorist asked as he pointed at the surrounding area of the duke's dominion. "These landed nobles would take mainly two actions. Either they can try to get on our good side, or resist us. Regardless of the choice they make, it will cause our family to be unnecessarily tangled up with them. The family forces will also have to be spread out. Not only do we have to defend the Hendliff Suspension Bridge and eliminate the nobles hostile to us, we will also lose the ability to act on our own initiative.
"Just like this," Lorist said as he opened his hand, "we would be spreading our fist into several fingers and put each finger against the fists of others in a fight. Not only will that cause harm to us, it will also cause us to lose the most important things, the spirit of the people and morale, mainly because we didn't fulfill our promise and dragged the commoners and soldiers into another era of war.
"That's the main reason I gave up on taking the duke's dominion for myself and focused on bringing everyone into the family dominion. During the past three years, we've developed the Felicitas Settlement, eliminated the magical beast wave and fulfilled our promise to distribute houses and farmland, granting them the peaceful lives they deserve. That's why, even though the Second Prince brought his troops of 100000 to face us, we were still able to gain victory within a single battle."
"But master, even though this time around we gained a huge victory in battle, you didn't even think about taking the duke's dominion and instead formed an alliance with the other three families and gave them so many benefits while not gaining any for ourselves. I believe that your decision wasn't too logical," Howard said.
Lorist laughed out loud and stroked Howard's head before he said, "How bold of you to say that to me.
"My explanation is still the same. The Northlands really is too big. Look here, traveling from Firmrock Castle to Gildusk City would already take 5 days, 7 days if you're planning to go all the way to Hendliff Suspension Bridge. Even if we take over the whole Northlands, information alone would take lots of time to transfer from one part to another. Additionally, those three families have also been on rather good terms with us. While it would be easy to turn our friends to enemies, our family stands to lose quite a lot by doing that. I know that our family soldiers are mighty, but needless sacrifices are nothing but wastage. Even if we take over the duke's dominion, will we still have enough resources to develop Blackmud Marsh?
"The future of our family and by extension, that of the Northlands, does not lie with those two suspension bridges. If the enemy seals off the other side of Metropoulos River, we will be effectively locked out and be unable to contact the outside world. Forming an alliance with the other three families is akin to passing that burden to them so that they can defend the two bridges while our family can use the bridges to procure more food and resources from the outside world as well as sell our own produce to them like salt and other goods.
"I believe I've already mentioned why I'm so focused on my own dominion, and that is because only our family dominion has access to the sea among all the other places in the Northlands. When we form our fleet, we will be able to travel to the other coastal nations of Grindia and that will be when our family's development will truly take flight. After that, the Northlands will one day be truly dominated by the banner of the Raging Bear."
"But master, what if the three families don't allow that to happen?" Howard asked.
"They will have to agree. By the time our family's might puts pressure on them, they will look for the soonest opportunity to leave the Northlands. Maybe we can even help them obtain new dominions of their choice. Howard, it is praiseworthy that you are ambitious for conquest. But your current thoughts are almost identical to that of the various powers struggling for domination right now in that you want to alpha strike everything, and that is not to be encouraged," Lorist said.
"Master, what's an alpha strike?" Howard asked.
"In war, one has to consider not just the military aspect. There are lots of other factors that seem unrelated at first but will actually decide one's victory. War is actually a struggle for supremacy between two nations and it involves an incredible number of profound plots and tactics. The victor is always the one who makes the best preparations.
"However, it's a shame that there has yet to be any military experts in Grindia that has noticed this fact. All they know is to wage battle using the grandest of maneuvers. They are in a way similar to chess players. The winning player will no longer have the pieces necessary to face off against other opponents.
"Take for instance the Second Prince. During the three years he was at the Northlands, he put in lots of effort and finally managed to form his First Legion. Combined with the soldiers of other nobles, he has a force of about 100000 men. If he didn't cause any trouble for the Norton Family, who do you think he would target instead?"
After Howard gave it some thought, he said, "The Madras Duchy."
"Not bad. His target is very likely to be the Madras Duchy as our Second Prince is a person who holds grudges deeply. Naturally, there's no doubt that he hates our family the most now. But if he didn't act against us, he would definitely have sent his 100000 soldiers to the Madras Duchy. Needless to say, the duchy would have made their own preparations as well, so an intense battle would break out causing both sides to be crippled in the end with not one of them being able to continue any further. They will eventually have to sign a peace treaty for a few years to lick their wounds. After that, they would rebuild their army and have another conflict a few years later. That's the alpha strike I was talking about.
"If you have a constant stream of reinforcements however, no matter how many casualties you sustain, do you think the other side would be able to hold on? The result is obvious in that the side without reinforcements would definitely end up defeated. But take a look at the various duchies and kingdoms that have split from the Krissen Empire right now. Most of them build up their forces, engage in battle, and either gain or lose a little before signing a peace treaty that lasts only a few years. That is the alpha strike in action. Apart from worsening the standard of living of the commoners, there is completely no long-lasting benefit to it," Lorist explained.
"Master, I think I understand what you're trying to say. War is not chess and it requires might and power to fall back and rely on. And as you said, the more our family develops the dominion, the stronger our family will end up being, and the more victories we will obtain in the long run, right? That's why you focus on developing the dominion unlike other nobles who think that conquering more territory is automatically better," Howard said with a tone of realization.
"Not bad, that's exactly it. Howard, you'll definitely become a stellar strategist in the future," Lorist said as he laughed.
 Alpha strike: Putting all available resources into one attack. A little similar to a zerg rush. Read more.